I recently attended a meeting where the CEO of a newly merged organisation addressed a group of employees. It should be noted that although coined a merger, this group of employees definitely felt like they were being taken over.
I was expecting a; “it’s for the best” approach, where the concerns of the audience were dampened down and a positive picture was painted of the future. This CEO actually took the opposite approach, where he could address concerns with facts he did, but more often than not he painted a picture of how he imagined the organisation would operate. To give context he used analogies and stories, but not from the business world, instead he spoke of his past, his family and other people who had influenced him. Finally, he often reverted back to the audience, asking how they thought things would happen or why they felt concerned in the first place.
There are lots of handbooks and guides on how to affect change; they’re very good, sometimes though it’s worth looking at the bad cases too, to see where others have made mistakes. John Bossong wrote that Leadership errors get magnified, therefore it’s worth putting thought into your approach to avoid these 3 mistakes;
- Tell it to me straight, Doc – we often say we want the facts until we actually hear them. Kotter suggests that we need to speak to peoples’ feelings to change behaviour and that both thinking and feeling are essential.
- This time next year – this CEO addressed concerns and asked about them, he didn’t try allaying or pacifying them. He didn’t ask for co-operation now for a reward later. Instead he reasoned that change would be on-going, bumpy and that the grass isn’t always greener.
- We’re all in it together – this may be a truism but it’s also trite. We all have influence over the impact and success of change but some have more than others. A management team claiming they’re in the same boat won’t win any followers, sharing their own concerns and what they intend to do about them, might.
This CEO also said that mourning is a natural feeling when going through a substantial change; wow it’s not many that would empathize so lucidly.
What’s your experience of change managed well and not so well?